Russia’s Gazprom has clearly demonstrated excessive optimism by starting the construction of the so-called Turkish Stream right off the bat. Apparently it is has not calculated the geopolitical situation around Russia properly, specifically where the US is applying unprecedented pressure on Turkey, Azerbaijan and Balkan to disrupt this project. Gazprom’s top management has made it clear that the company is not going to put the construction of the Turkish Stream on the back burner since it should have the ability to deliver gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine. This project should be finalized by 2019, and Gazprom has already notified its European partners of its intentions of abandoning the pipeline in Ukraine by this date. Moscow has also renewed a contract on the supply of more than 150 thousand tons of pipes with Europipe, while lifting restrictions on the contract with the Italian Saipem. The company will begin construction in the shallow waters of the Black Sea to launch the initial stage of the project in June. Thus, the pipes purchased for the abandoned South Stream will be used in the construction of the Turkish Stream.
But then, out of the blue Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yıldız stressed in an interview with the Turkish TV channel TRT Haber that Ankara would not take part in the construction of the Turkish Stream. Immediately after that announcement Baku and Ankara decided to build a gas pipeline of their own. It is expected that an agreement on the construction of Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) will be signed during the visit of Azerbaijan‘s President Ilham Aliyev to Turkey in late May. TANAP will enable the transportation of Azeri gas through Turkey to Europe and it may be a potential rival to the Russian project. It’s unclear whether Azerbaijan will be able to provide enough gas to utilize TANAP to its full capacity. The first stage of the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline should be able to transport 16 billion CBM of gas a year, while later on its capacity should reach about 24 billion CBM. Azerbaijan alone has no means of providing that much gas, as it has recently been disputing gas deposits in the Caspian Sea with Turkmenistan. The initial stage of TANAP construction is estimated to cost 8 billion dollars.
It is clear that Ankara’s decision is all about politics, since the Russian project would have allowed it to satisfy Turkey’s demand for gas at a discounted price, while making the country an important element of Moscow’s gas supply chain to southern Europe. Yet it has decided to shoot itself in the foot due to two major factors: the pressure applied by Washington and the error Moscow made under the influence of the Armenian lobby by honoring the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. After all, modern Turkey bears no responsibility for the massacre of Armenians, as well as modern Russia can not be held responsible for the deeds of the Russian Empire in the Caucasus. Three days after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin visited the Tsitsernakaberd memorial, Recep Tayyip Erdogan started mentioning the Crimea in his speeches. The Turkish leader said that Russia should be held accountable for its actions in Crimea and Ukraine before condemning the massacre of Armenians by the Ottomans in 1915. Apparently, the Turks have failed to realize how Moscow could take such steps, if it was to build close cooperation with Ankara. No special relations were built with Azerbaijan as well, although it remains a potential competitor to Russia on the gas market. Moreover, Baku is well aware that Moscow is favoring Armenia over Azerbaijan due to the above mentioned Armenian lobby.
But the most severe blow to the Turkish Stream was dealt by the United States by affecting the states that were generally perceived as friendly to Russia. Washington has done everything it could to cool down the “pro-Russian sentiments” of authorities in both Serbia and Macedonia. And now, Serbia, the former potential supporter of the failed South Stream project declared its readiness to join the Azeri project being lobbied by the US and the European Union.
And then another blow followed – Macedonia refused to participate in the construction of the Russian gas pipeline without the permission of the European Union. This news was officially announced by Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Macedonia was to become the third country on the route of the pipeline, after Turkey and Greece that was negotiating with Russia. The existing plan of the pipeline cannot bypass Macedonia, while the country itself is not exactly interested in this project. It only consumes about 150 million CBM of gas a year, while getting it from Russia. However, according to Gruevski, the price of Russian gas is too high, and Macedonia plans to gain access to the TAP pipeline which should be delivering Azeri gas to Europe. There’s little doubt that the recent statements made by the Macedonia Prime Minister have geopolitical implications. In recent weeks, the situation in Macedonia has escalated rapidly, while the opposition, led by Zoran Zaev has been trying to force an immediate resignation of the government.
There’s also the Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) which should transport Azeri gas from the Shah Deniz gas field to the western borders of Turkey and then supply Greece, Albania and southern Italy. In late May the project received final permission from the government of Italy that was needed to start its construction scheduled for 2016. . This 500 mile long pipeline would have the capacity to transport 10 billion CBM of gas a year, while it could be extended to transport up to 20 billion CBM per year depending on the supply and demand. Additional gas extraction capabilities should be operational in Azerbaijan by 2017. The gas of Shah Deniz-2 should be transported across Turkey by the TANAP pipeline. The expected capacity of the pipeline will amount to at least 16 billion CBM per year, of which 10 billion CBM will be delivered to Europe, while other 6 billion CBM should supply western regions of Turkey.
It is a well known fact that the Turkish Stream was going to stretch across the Black Sea to Turkey, and then reach Serbia, Hungary and Austria through Greece and Macedonia. For Russia it was crucial to reach one of the key gas hub in Europe – Baumgarten. The total capacity of four lines of pipes was planned to reach some 60 billion CBM per year which would render the Ukrainian transit route completely useless, and which Gazprom was planning to abandon by 2020. But while the pipeline project is in the initial stage, no binding agreement was signed while possible funding sources remain unclear.
Now one can safely assume that the Turkish stream will only stretch across land outside of Turkey. Should two lines be built the project will only be able to transport 32 billion CBM a year. Gazprom will be able to abandon the transit of gas through Ukraine only if Turkey agrees to take a half of all gas delivered by the pipeline, while the rest will be consumed by Greece and Bulgaria with minimum requirements for additional infrastructure. Most likely, Gazprom will only build two lines instead out of the initial four across the Black Sea. Formally underwater pipelines are not regulated by the EU, but in practice governments of individual states may delay permits. The United States has clearly succeeded in delaying the whole project, and to resolve all issues, Moscow must start taking urgent steps to normalize its relations with Ankara.
But there is a positive aspect: Moscow must have finally realized that the United States will not rest until they get rid of the current government of Vladimir Putin or suffer a crushing defeat. Americans under the pretext of the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea started to weaken Russia and now they want to tear it to pieces. In 1991-92 under Boris Yeltsin’s rule they did not do it, although they could have. They had confidence in the loyalty of that regime, now there is a struggle for the very survival of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state within its present borders. There’s no room left for illusions.
Peter Lvov, Ph.D in political science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”